Depth Chart, In-Depth: Running Backs
Up first: After spending his first four seasons waiting in the wings, grad student Rod McDowell (5-9, 195, Sumter, S.C.) will get his chance in the spotlight.
McDowell, a seldom-used reserve in 2010 and 2011 (224 yards on 46 carries), started out the 2012 season third in the pecking order, but over the course of the season played his way into a regular-rotation backup role behind Andre Ellington. He rushed for 450 yards on 83 carries and scored five touchdowns. He also caught three passes. During his career, McDowell has played in 33 games and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
Next In Line: Redshirt junior D.J. Howard (5-11, 195, Lincoln, Ala.) emerged from spring practice No. 2 behind McDowell - the same spot he earned a year earlier behind Ellington. Over the past two seasons, Howard has shown flashes, but has yet to establish himself as a workhorse mainstay. In 23 games over two years, he's carried the ball 76 times for 268 yards and a 4.8 average. Almost of a third of his yardage came in an 86-yard performance against Auburn in the third game of his freshman year.
Sophomore Zac Brooks (6-1, 185, Jonesboro, Ark.) was recruited specifically by Chad Morris to provide backfield versatility. He played sparingly as a first-year freshman, working fourth in the rotation behind Ellington, McDowell and Howard. He appeared in eight games for 65 snaps, and had 26 carries for 119 yards. He also caught three passes.
In The Pipeline: After finishing as runner-up to Georgia for both Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in 2012, the Tiger coaching staff made the running back position a priority during the 2013 recruiting cycle, and targeted many highly-rated prospects. They ended up with two off their A-list in Tyshon Dye (6-1, 205, Elberton, Ga.) and Wayne Gallman (6-1, 195, Loganville, Ga.).
Dye and Gallman give the Tigers a bigger backfield look, both with 220-pound size potential and impressive speed. Gallman was rated as one of the top 20 running backs in the nation by 247Sports, and also excelled as a linebacker. Dye was tabbed as a top-20 running back by both ESPN and Rivals, and was ranked 12th by 247Sports. He was a 1,500-yard rusher as a junior, and gained 817 yards on just 95 carries and scored 12 touchdowns as a senior, despite being sidelined for the second half of the season by a broken ankle.
Working Walk-Ons: Working at the running back position in the spring were junior Alex Goode (5-9, 200, Ninety Six, S.C.), sophomore George Johnson (5-5, 165, Loganville, Ga.), freshman Haamid Williams (6-1, 175, York, S.C.) and sophomore C.J. Davidson (5-11, 185, Central, S.C.). Johnson is reportedly exploring the possibility of transferring to Georgia State.
More Help On The Way: Once again, the coaching staff aimed high with multiple recruiting offers to elite backs. The Tigers got early commitments from Jae'lon Oglesby (5-11, 175, Central, S.C.) and Dalvin Cook; and after Cook flipped to Florida, Clemson added commitments from Adam Choice (5-9, 190, Thomasville, Ga.) and C.J. Fuller (5-11, 200, Easley, S.C.).
A consensus four-star prospect, Choice is rated as high as the No. 8 running back in the nation by Rivals. Oglesby, a workhorse back at Daniel High for the past two seasons, is rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports, which ranks him as the No. 6 'all-purpose back' in the nation. Fuller, like Oglesby, was a 2,000+ yards rusher in 2012. He's rated as a four-star prospect and No. 38 in the nation at his position by ESPN.
Overall Outlook: Unproven. McDowell has waited his turn, but that's not all he's done over the past four seasons. He's transformed his body, has added weight and strength, but yet hasn't lost his sprinter's burst. McDowell stepped up last year and earned his playing time behind Ellington with his performance on the field. But he'll be asked to do something this season that he's not been asked to do since high school - to carry the primary load for an offense that wants to run the football.
Howard has shown plenty of promise, as well. He does a good job of finding holes and following his blocks, and consistently picks up extra yards after contact. Injuries have been his greatest obstacle so far. Brooks had a good spring, but he'll need to step up this fall and prove himself essential to the Tigers' regular rotation.
Chad Morris and Dabo Swinney have both said they envision a 'by-committee' approach to the running back, and that probably means there will be opportunity for one, if not both, of the freshmen to play this season. How much and how soon depends heavily on the players ahead of them on the depth chart.